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The Memorial Service

Posted by Rick Gilbert

Apr 29, 2014 8:30:00 AM

There may come a time when you are asked to organize a memorial service or  a "celebration of life" for a dear friend or relative.

Here are some ideas... I recently "road tested" in performing a ceremony for the family, business colleagues, and friends of Don Schaller who died last month. You can see details here:





Rick Gilbert

Rick Gilbert

Memory Table

In the lobby, the family set up a table with photos and memorabilia of Don's life.

memorial_service_(2) memorial_service


Slide Show

I collected photos and put them into iPhoto and used Hubert Laws' Amazing Grace as the sound track. The slides and music played continuously as people came in.

People stood in silence just watching, some sobbing and hugging.



Chairs in a Circle

Since the service was not in a church, we had the flexibility to put the chairs in a giant circle four rows deep. This allowed the 250 attendees to be in touch with each other as we celebrated Don's life through both tears and laughter.



After people got settled, I made a few introductory remarks about the structure of the ceremony and asked them to keep their comments to around two minutes to allow for the greatest number of people to speak. Some remembrances were funny, some tearful. One even involved a costume.

One highlight of the ceremony was the appearance of a Barbershop Quartet, The OK Chorale. Barbershop was a love of Don's.

IMG_5317 IMG_5318


Group Hug

After an hour and fifteen minutes, I concluded the ceremony and asked the family members to come into the center of the room. I invited everyone to crowd around the family for a 250 person "group hug." As we showered the family with love and support, I asked the group to sing the last song Don sang, "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover," a #1 record in 1948 when Don was 15. We sang Don on to glory.

Be Kind to Yourself

I reminded people that we'd all been through a hard emotional experience today, and to take care of themselves for the next few days, especially when driving.


This informal, secular celebration worked well for the Schaller family. It may not work for others who are more traditional. Each family will be different. In any event I hope these ideas have stimulated your thinking.

Topics: Stories, Style, Core Message, Memorial Services, Euolgy

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